The Pasadena Playhouse staging of the Broadway musical, Play On!, a melding of Twelfth Night, Cotton Club Harlem and Duke Ellington songs, makes its TV premiere 9 PM (ET) June 21, on PBS' "Great Performances."
Sheldon Epps, who conceived and staged the musical for the Globe Theatre in San Diego before it went to Broadway in 1997, recreates the show for Pasadena Playhouse, where "Great Performances" documented the experience in August 1999. Mercedes Ellington, the Duke's granddaughter, choreographs.
The African-American take on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (set in 1940s Harlem) has been an audience favorite in regional productions. It earned three Tony Award nominations when it played on Broadway.
The script, a simplified, urbanized version of Shakespeare's comedy of thwarted love, crossdressing and misunderstandings, plugs some of Ellington's best-known work ("Mood Indigo," "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," "Take the 'A' Train," and more) into the story about Vy (played by Natalie Venetia Belcon), a Mississippi girl who disguises herself as a man to become a songwriter and conductor in the Duke's Orchestra in 1940s Harlem. Nikki Crawford plays songbird Lady Liv, who mistakenly falls in love with "Vy-man." The composer, Duke, is played by Raun Ruffin.
The libretto is by Cheryl L. West, whose Jar the Floor played Off Broadway in fall 1999. Conceiver Epps, artistic director of the Pasadena Playhouse, also developed the revue, Blues in the Night. Play On! closed on Broadway May 11, after 61 performances and 19 previews. The decision to close was made just hours after the show was nominated for three 1997 Tony Awards. Tonya Pinkins was nominated for Best Leading Actress in a Musical, Andre De Shields was nominated for Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical and Luther Henderson was nominated for Best Orchestrations -- a new category that year.
The Pasadena Play On! also features Richard Allen, Yvette Cason, Clinton Derricks-Carroll and Kevin Ramsey.
The scenic design by James Leonard Joy is inspired by the work of Romare Beardon.
Gary Halvorson directed for television, Epps for the stage. Check local listings for exact time in your area.